International cooperation is what countsDuring this operation with the code name Silver Axe III, enforcement officers in 27 participating countries1 carried out searches in important airports and sea freight harbours as well as at border crossings and in production and packaging facilities. This made it possible for them to seize roughly 360 tons of counterfeit and illegal pesticides in April and May 2018. According to the investigators, this is enough to spray around 48,000 square kilometres, which is approximately the size of Great Britain.
Wil van Gemert, Europol’s Deputy Executive Director Operations, commented:
“The record volume of hazardous substances seized this year is an important step in stemming the flow of potentially lethal products into the EU marketplace. The complexity and scale of this fraud means cooperation needs to happen across borders with a multi-agency approach, working hand in hand with the private sector”.
Local enforcement officers were assisted by Europol, which served as the central data collection point and analysed the findings obtained in the participating countries and coordinated the cooperation of more than 40 assisting companies.
Further assistance came from the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF), which provided information about more than 180 suspicious deliveries, primarily shipments from China. Various advocacy groups were also involved, including CropLife International, the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) and the European Crop Care Association (ECCA), for example. Current EUIPO studies see the annual damages caused by counterfeit pesticides in the EU at 1.3 billion euros.
Smugglers are active in criminal networks
“Smuggling occurs through complex contraband operations run by criminal networks. It is very difficult for a single authority to intercept smugglers”, said Nicholas Ilett, Acting Director-General of OLAF. “These seizures illustrate how crucial international cooperation is in the fight against the illegal trade of counterfeit products."
One of the successful confiscations was, for example, an operation carried out by Hungarian officials, who stopped a delivery of approx. 20,400 kg of pesticides on their way from China to Hungary via Ukraine. The pesticides, which were transported in unmarked containers, would have had a market value of more than one million US dollars (approx. 860,000 Euros) as assumed branded goods. In another example, 5.4 tons of pesticides were caught on their way from Turkey to the Czech Republic via Germany.
Last year, over 120 tons of illegal pesticides were seized during the Europol Silver Axe II operation. Previously in Germany, large amounts of counterfeit pesticides were seized in the Hamburg harbour, for example; in one case alone it was roughly 200 tons with a value of approx. 15 million euros.
1 Countries participating in Silver Axe III: Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldavia, Croatia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Great Britain, Ukraine, The Netherlands (as leading nation) and Italy (as co-leader).
The Economist Intelligence Unit, World Trademark Review